“The Gumsucker’s Dirge” [poem by Joseph Furphy]

[Editor: This poem by Joseph Furphy was published in The Poems of Joseph Furphy (1916).]

“The Gumsucker’s Dirge.”

Sing the evil days we see, and the worse that are to be,
In such doggerel as dejection will allow,
We are pilgrims, sorrow-led, with no Beulah on ahead,
No elysian Up the Country for us now.

For the settlements extend till they seem to have no end;
Spreading silently, you can’t tell when or how;
And a home-infested land stretches out on every hand,
So there is no Up the Country for us now.

On the six-foot Mountain peak, up and down the dubious creek,
Where the cockatoos alone should make a row,
There the rooster tears his throat, to announce with homely note,
That there is no Up the Country for us now.

Where the dingo should be seen, sounds the Army tambourine,
While the hardest case surrenders with a vow;
And the church-bell, going strong, makes us feel we’ve lived too long,
Since there is no Up the Country for us now.

And along the pine-ridge side, where the mallee-hen should hide,
You will see some children driving home a cow;
Whilst, ballooning on a line, female garniture gives sign,
That there is no Up the Country for us now.

Here, in place of emu’s eggs, you will find surveyors’ pegs,
And the culvert where there ought to be a slough;
There, a mortise in the ground, shows the digger has been round,
And has left no Up the Country for us now.

And across this fenced-in view, like our friend the well-sung Jew,
Goes the swaggy, with a frown upon his brow,
He is cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d, for the thought is on his mind,
That there is no Up the Country for him now.

And the boy that bolts from home has no decent place to roam,
No region with adventure to endow,
But his ardent spirit cools at the sight of farms and schools,
Hence, there is no Up the Country for him now.

Such a settling, spreading curse must infallibly grow worse,
Till the saltbush disappears before the plough,
But the future, evil-fraught, is forgotten in the thought,
That there is no Up the Country for us now.

We must do a steady shift, and devote our minds to thrift,
Till we reach at length the standard of the Chow,
For we’re crumpled side by side in a world no longer wide,
And there is no Up the Country for us now.

Better we were cold and still, with our famous Jim and Bill,
Beneath the interdicted wattle-bough,
For the angels made our date five-and-twenty years too late,
And there is no Up the Country for us now.

K. B. [Kate Baker] (editor), The Poems of Joseph Furphy, Melbourne: Lothian Book Publishing Co., 1916, pages 28-29

Editor’s notes:
Army = the Salvation Army, a religious organisation which campaigned for the temperance cause in its earlier days

Beulah = a name given to the land of Israel or Judea (used in the Bible, in Isaiah 62:4) (Hebrew, literally meaning “married”); in The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, Beulah was a peaceful land “upon the borders of heaven”

Chow = a Chinese person (may also refer to something that is Chinese in origin or style, e.g. a “Chow restaurant”)

elysian = blissful, delightful; a reference to Elysium (also known as the Elysian Fields) of Greek mythology, as a conception of an indulgent afterlife for the righteous and the heroic

garniture = objects which garnish, adorn, or decorate; a range, set, or collection of decorative items, especially vases

Jim and Bill = a reference to Bill-Jims, Australians; a “Bill-Jim” (or “Billjim”), being a combination of the common first names “Bill” and “Jim”, was a term used to refer to an Australian male; an ordinary, everyday Australian

mortise = a hole, grove, recess, or slot cut into something which is designed to receive a corresponding item so as to join the parts together, such as with woodworking

swaggy = swagman (also spelt “swaggie”)

[Editor: Corrected “Amy” to “Army”.]

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